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11-29-2014, 10:39 PM   #1
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What's wrong with a cheap tripod?

So I'm starting to look into getting a tripod and the majority of what I've read basically says to not waste my time with anything under $250. Maybe a few times I've read about people having luck with something around $150. I'm new and have never used a tripod so none of this is based on experience, just logic. I honestly can't see why something for under a $100 wouldn't work (for me) just as well as something for $500. I understand that you get wah you pay for and I also understand that more expensive ones are made better, lighter, smother heads, and sturdier. But how sturdy does it really need to be? I don't go out when it's bad weather or windy, I don't live near mountains or rough terrain. I go to local parks and take pictures of stuff that looks cool to me. I have no prob shooting handheld with a 70-300 so I can't see why I would need a tripod to be solid as a rock. Especially with ISR. The shutter isn't going to mess up the shot if it doesn't while holding the camera. So maybe I'm missing something or maybe not. Tripods just seem outrageously overpriced for something that'll do the same for a fraction of the price. Just like backpacking gear. A $200 Patagonia jacket isn't gonna keep me any warmer than a $20 Walmart jacket. But in most cases, it'll will be far superior in quality and much lighter. But at the end of the day, I'll be just as warm as the next guy.

Last edited by Another dyemention; 11-29-2014 at 10:45 PM.
11-29-2014, 10:48 PM - 1 Like   #2
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For what it's worth, I got a cheap tripod. I mean, real cheap. Pretty sure it was $30 or so. It works fine. I don't use it a lot. Just when I need to do a longer exposure, in low light or of the night sky... Or if I want to be in the shot, or for certain landscape shots. I would probably oooh and aaah over the features of an expensive tripod, but if I'm going to drop $250, it's going to be for a lens. The tripod is just not that vital of a tool for me. Everyone will have a different experience.
11-29-2014, 10:56 PM   #3
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Well, maybe nothing.

The typical advice is good if you spend $100 on a tripod that isn't good enough and have to buy a second tripod that actually works for your purpose. And a lot of advice here leans toward the infinite budget assumption - it's easy to spend your money.

But if you know in advance that you won't be using very heavy gear, and know the features you need are all in the cheap thing, an expensive tripod would be a waste.

The manual says to disable SR on a tripod, since it will try to overcorrect for hand vibrations which aren't there. I usually do this by switching the drive mode to the 2 second delay.
11-29-2014, 10:59 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Another dyemention Quote
I honestly can't see why something for under a $100 wouldn't work (for me)
And for how you are going to use it, you would be right

Last edited by ak_kiwi; 11-29-2014 at 11:45 PM.
11-29-2014, 11:03 PM   #5
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Sturdy with a 35mm lens is easy. Sturdy with a 400mm lens, not so much. I'm all for not overbuying....but preview first. Buying a $50 tripod that doesn't do the job and turns into a $90 tripod that doesn't do the job means the $130 tripod cost $270 to get right.

Remember the head and the convenience it offers adds greatly to the cost of your purchase. And remember quick release....if even to save the thread is in your body.....they often don't come on lower cost combinations.
11-29-2014, 11:23 PM   #6
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Don't forget the used market... that can redefine "cheap" I got this for $10 at a yard sale in like new condition. (Manfrotto 190 w/168 ball head)

11-29-2014, 11:29 PM - 3 Likes   #7
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I suppose it depends on what you will use it for, how often you use it, how big and heavy your gear is and whether you want to buy once or multiple times.

I bought a cheap one, $50 years ago, it broke within a few months, fortunately not damaging any gear. So I bought an 'expensive' one at about $100 which lasted several years before the head would no longer tighten enough to hold the camera. So I bought another similar but slightly more expensive one which I fought with for a year or so before passing it on to someone else. Then I bought a real tripod and a real head, which cost an arm and a leg. It is a pleasure to use, will hold anything I put on it and actually makes me a better photographer. So I spent $275 on trash and risked $1,000's of dollars in gear by putting my camera on a piece of junk before I got smart enough to buy a good tripod.

It sounds like you have already made up your mind, but here are a few things to think about:
  • Do you really want to put a $1,000 camera on a $100 tripod?
  • SR should be turned off when you use a tripod
  • A cheap tripod head is just really not functional in the way it is supposed to work. Yes, it will hold your camera but that's it. A real head is a pleasure to use and allows you to move and adjust things and holds the camera rock solid with no droop when you let go.
  • A light tripod can blow over. I can attest to that from personal experience. The sick feeling you get as your $1,000 camera heads toward the ground is something you do not want to experience.
  • The weight ratings manufacturers use for tripods should be discounted by 1/2 or even 2/3s. So add up the weight of your gear multiply by 3 and see if you can get a tripod with that rating in your budget.
  • All consumer items are made in different grades. You can buy a hammer for $5 at Walmart or you can buy one at a hardware store for $50 or $75. Both look the same, both have a metal head and a handle. But I can assure you they do not work or last the same. We used to call the $50 ones 'hammers' and the $5 ones 'beaters'. And I worked with guys who never did understand the difference and their work showed it.
  • If you are going to use the hammer in my example 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, buy the best you can get. The price is immaterial over the life of the tool. If you are going to use it for 5 minutes on Saturday three times a year, well yeah get the $5 one who really cares? You can put up with anything for 15 minutes a year.

Also, keep in mind a lot of the advice you read was from years ago before import knock off brands. Today there are a number of brands that are quite inexpensive but offer reasonable quality. But I still would not waste my time with anything under $200 or so.

I do have a travel tripod that I quite like, the MeFOTO Roadtrip @ about $190. I would never think of putting a 300mm or 400mm lens on it and I do not ever extend it all the way. But for what it is, a light small travel tripod, it does quite well. I use it when I am flying and do not want to pack the Manfrotto.
11-29-2014, 11:34 PM   #8
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I've gone through about 3 or 4 tripods... mostly the cheap kind. Then I got a good one and have been way more pleased with it.

First in my opinion define what you plan to do. If you can throw the thing in your car and leave it there and don't need to lug it around...that's one thing... but for me... if I get down in South America or Africa romping around I want something small and light. Packing a 4 foot long stainless steel 15 pound tripod that was made in 1972 that I found at the local pawn shop around just isn't practical for me.

Also there are many tripods that won't hold up. I had one cheapo one that was super fiddly. You had to crank this lever and twist that and turn this to get it set... and unless your shot happened in the next 30-60 seconds the tripod settings (IE the position, the head, etc) would move...sometimes a lot... just by gravity. It got very frustrating. The thing wound up in the trash after a couple of attempted uses.

There are also a lot of limitations on some cheap tripods... such as you can't turn your camera sideways for a vertical shot... or you can't get low enough (or high enough)... and some of the controls on others are just plain and simply a pain in the @ss to deal with.

I have had the QD plate just fall right off the tripod when it was supposedly supposed to be attached..

Needless to say I can go on...but I would say go for it. If you know what you plan to shoot then spend 'enough' to not get a POS... and go for it... if you have any kind of special needs though that may show up over time... you will be better off getting something 'better'....

11-29-2014, 11:42 PM   #9
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I have had several tripods. Mostly cheap ones that do the job up to certain limits. By cheap I mean, plastic and not interchangeable heads, legs that can not be adjusted individually for angle. Minimum height around 50 cm. They work ok until one gets on uneven ground or need to use a heavy lens/camera combo or need to get to ground level. That is when they literally fall down. Currently I have a Manfrotto 055 with the quirky "Junior" head. Legs can be adjusted individually for length and angle so uneven ground is no problem. Centre column can be reversed to get right on the ground. Only drawback is that it is reasonably heavy and as I am not as young as when I bought it, I am starting to feel the weight. And now I mention it it is now over 30 years old and as good as new.

I am seriously considering a light weight carbon fibre unit such as Sirui make but have not yet made the purchase.
11-29-2014, 11:53 PM   #10
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I should also add that with 'better' tripods you have replacement parts. With really cheap ones you don't. If the little rubber foot thing comes off or wears out... too a new tripod. If you need a spare QD plate? Sorry, not available. Buy a new tripod.

If you buy 'cheap' as in crappy (not as in inexpensive) you will buy repeatedly. By the time you pay for 4 cheap tripods you could have gotten one decent one that would have been a lot easier to deal with the whole time.
11-29-2014, 11:54 PM   #11

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My friend has a ~50€ Velbon. It holds the camera but that's all. It doesn't extend to her height without the unstable center column, it shakes a bit when tapped and, while straight-forward, it's not really smooth to set up. It's sort of OK for her needs though, but she plans on replacing it since one of the joints started to fail (after ~2 years of use).
If you can live with a lower height and the single feature of supporting the camera then there's no reason to get anything above 200$. If you want to do any kind of close-ups or use anything above 100mm though, it's a different story. SR doesn't help at all on a tripod since it only counters "soft" vibration, the kind you make when breathing etc. On a tripod, SR would be trolled by the mechanical shake from the mirror and shutter, which you normally absorb with your body.
FWIW I got myself a Manfrotto 190Xpro3 in a 230€ deal with a ballhead and bag.

Last edited by Giklab; 11-30-2014 at 12:00 AM.
11-30-2014, 12:10 AM   #12
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What is your expected use?
11-30-2014, 12:58 AM   #13
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i have a couple of the super cheap $40 Costco type tripods that I use for holding flashes. They have really flimsy plastic latches that sometimes break off at the slightest bump. The lightweight aluminum legs get bent in my trunk sometimes - these are really unfit for any serious purpose, imo.

You dont have to go crazy to get a good sturdy tripod. $200 used will get something decent, IMO.

You mentioned shake reduction, but you typically will turn it off to shoot from a tripod.

at slowish shutter speeds (1/20th sec and slower), a little wind or vibration from a passing vehicle can introduce motion blur to your image, compounded with longer focal lengths. So, if you are shooting daylight with fast shutters, dont worry too much as long as your tripod can bear the weight of your gear. Otherwise, better get something more capable.

good luck!
11-30-2014, 01:28 AM - 2 Likes   #14
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I have a $40 tripod. I do sometimes wish it was more stable, but it works well as long as I'm careful in placing the legs (which you really should be anyway), is light and very compact, which is important for me because I shoot a lot at night on top of mountains, and was entirely affordable for a poor student like me. An expensive tripod might be nice to have, but I don't see it as necessary.
11-30-2014, 02:28 AM   #15
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Within one year the leg locks on my $60 Dolica tripods broke, at the worst possible time, ten minutes in to a 2 hour event I was shooting for friends. Never again I said. Bought a Feisol and am very happy with it. Wish I would have gotten it to begin with and skipped that experience.

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